The unexpected rainfall couldn't keep the community away April 25, as 400 flocked to the Yosemite High School Theater in anticipation of the school's Theater Arts Department production of "Beauty and the Beast."
Little girls, in their best "Belle" costumes, competed for front-row seating. Before the curtain opened, one mother was heard to whisper to her children, "You're going to love this." And love it they did thoroughly engaged in every movement and every song so much so that during the performance, after a particularly gruff and ominous growl from the Beast, one young audience "Belle" could be overheard by theater guests: "That's mean ...." Cast members may have cracked smiles, but all stayed focused.
For four days last week, these students, under the direction of YHS Fine Arts Chair Lars Thorson, presented their most expansive and expensive performance yet the musical adaptation of the 1991 animated film, Beauty and the Beast. The 30 YHS students were accompanied by a 12-piece orchestra composed of members of the YHS Wind Ensemble and Oakhurst Community Band.
Jamie Hellwig, a Yosemite freshman, played the French horn and oboe during the shows, and her mother, Julie, couldn't be more proud, not only of her daughter, but of the community.
"For Jamie, this has been a different experience like going into a different dimension ... she is playing blind because she can't see the performers," Julie said. "There are a lot of people from the community who have volunteered to play in the orchestra during all the performances ... these people give up their time for these students. "
Boris Nixon is one of those community members playing cello in the orchestra, and because he was back stage with the other musicians, he was unable to see his son Eddie perform in the role of the Beast. On the last night of the show, Boris put his cello aside, and joined the audience in sitting-back and taking-in the overall musical experience.
Following Saturday's matinee, young audience members were treated with the opportunity of meeting and greeting the performers on stage.
Tallulah Barena, 5, a Wasuma Elementary School student, said she liked the musical very much because in the end, Belle saves the day. She was there with her father Kenny and stepmother, Courtney. Tallulah wants to be an actress and perform on stage one day, and said Belle was her favorite character in Beauty and the Beast because "she has pretty hair."
Belle was also Riley's favorite because "she's so beautiful." Riley, 6, got a sneak peek of Beauty and the Beast when the cast performed a couple scenes at Oakhurst Elementary, and wanted to see the entire production. She came dressed as Belle with her mother Nikki Lewis.
"My mom used to take me to Fresno for these kinds of things," Nikki said, "so it's nice that I can experience this with my daughter without having to commute."
"Overall we had more than 1,000 people see the show," Thorson commented. "I am enormously proud of my students for their work and grateful to Randy Hyatt for putting together the orchestra, which was made up of YHS students, home school students, Oakhurst Community Band members and a couple of professional musicians. You know we could never achieve what Disney did on film."
However, from the glowing reviews, ear-to-ear smiles, and audience members swarming the stage to offer hugs, praise or to snap photos, it appeared that Thorson and all those involved in the musical ran a close second.
The school's production featured seniors Kailyn Hammerling (Belle), Eddie Nixon (the Beast), Ben Hartesveldt (the conceited Gaston), Dillan Masai (Lumiere), Lance Litton (Cogsworth), Jacob Caldwell (LeFou), and junior Jocelyn Boe (Mrs. Potts). All the performers are students from the Advanced Theater Arts and the Chamber Singers classes.
Behind the scenes were musical director Randy Hyatt, vocal coach/pianist, Jackie Byers, choreographer Shelby Pisel, stage manager Maddy Dynge, light board operator Cole Lawrence, and spot-light operator Sam Burnett. In addition there were lighting, construction and painting crews, as well.